"Calm as an under-current, strong to draw
Millions of waves into itself and run
From sea to sea, impervious to the sun
And ploughing storm, the spirit of Nassau
—Wordsworth, William III.
W ILLIAM and Mary were living peaceably at The Hague when Charles II. died in 1685, leaving no children. He was succeeded by his brother James, a Roman Catholic. The next heir to the English throne was Mary, William's wife. England was considering the matter of succession when a son was born to James, an unfortunate little prince, destined to seventy-seven years of wandering and exile, and known to history as the Old Pretender. His birth brought matters to a crisis. He was sure to be brought up as a Roman Catholic like his father, and England wanted a Protestant ruler.
So an invitation was written and secretly conveyed to The Hague begging William to come over to England with an army and restore the Protestant religion. The Prince of Orange accepted the invitation. Though he must fight against his own father-in-law, there were larger questions at stake than mere family ties. A camp was formed at once. Soldiers and sailors were raised. The gunmakers of Utrecht worked at pistols and muskets by day and night, the saddlers at Amsterdam toiled at harness, the docks were busy with shipping. And ever and anon a light swift skiff sped between the Dutch and English coasts. It was an anxious time. The Prince maintained an icy calmness, but to his friend he wrote openly: "My sufferings, my disquiet, are dreadful. I hardly see my way. Never in my life did I feel so much the need of God's guidance."
By the autumn of 1688 all was ready. He said good-bye to the States-General, alone standing calm amid his weeping friends.
"I am now leaving you, perhaps never to return," he told them. "If I should fall in defence of my religion, take care of my beloved wife."
Though beaten back on his first venture by a violent storm, William set sail with his 600 ships, accompanied by fifty men-of-war, for the shores of England. As the Dutch fleet passed the narrow Straits of Dover the flourish of trumpets, the clash of cymbals, and the rolling of the drums was heard on either shore. As night drew on the watchers on the southern coast beheld the sea in a blaze of light, through which three huge lanterns flamed from the leading ship, which bore to England William, Prince of Orange.
Meanwhile the news that his son-in-law had landed at Torbay reached James, who was already preparing to oppose him. He had a splendid army, but he could not depend on his men. Soon they began to desert him and flock to the standard of William, until at last he fled to London in despair, only to hear that his daughter Anne had fled secretly.
"God help me!" cried the wretched king, "for my own children have forsaken me."
His spirit was broken now. Nothing was left him but flight. He arranged for the safety of his wife and child, declaring he himself would stick to his post. It was a December night. The king and queen went to bed as usual. When all was quiet James called to his side a faithful French friend to whom he had confided his secret.
"I confide to you my queen and my son. You must risk everything to carry them to France," he said.
It was a bitter night in December. Wrapping his own cloak round the ill-fated baby of seven months old, and giving his hand to the weeping queen, the Frenchman took them down the back- stairs and placed them in an open boat on the Thames. The rain was falling in torrents, the wind roared, the water was rough, but the little party of fugitives escaped to a ship and set sail with a fair wind for France.
The next day the king rose at three in the morning, and taking the Great Seal of State, he disappeared down a secret passage, crossed the Thames, and flinging the Great Seal into the midst of the stream, he attempted to follow his wife and child to France. He was captured and brought back to London; but William had no wish to have his royal father-in-law on his hands, and James, the fugitive king, was allowed to embark for France.
Then, amid the peal of bells, the blast of trumpets, and the joyous shouts of the citizens, William and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen of England.
The great Revolution was over.
But James had no intention of giving up his kingdom so quietly. By the help of Louis XIV. he raised an army and sailed over to assert his rights in Ireland.